Indiana Jones and the Volcano

By Keith Varnum

There are three kinds of people:
Those who are immovable, those who are movable, and those who move!

– Arab proverb

Experiencing a live volcano was on top of our agenda when my friend Rob and I visited the exotic land of Costa Rica. The plane touched down in the capital city of San Jose, and, after clearing customs, we headed for the car rental to pick up a 4×4 and a map to Mt. Arenal, the nearest active volcano.

After an arduous drive through torrential rain, we finally arrived in a quiet village supposedly at the foot of a fire-belching monster. I say supposedly because it was so foggy, we weren’t even sure a volcano existed. We couldn’t see a tree a block away, let alone a volcanic mountain looming 5,000 feet above us.

Locals claim if you really listen closely, you can hear the beast rumble. We never heard a whimper. By the second misty day and night of no sighting, I suspected the local population had fabricated the story of an erupting volcano in order to attract tourist dollars. A volcano of convenience. No muss, no fuss. Just some imaginary rumbling every so often that only the locals hear from a volcano no one ever sees because of the rain and fog!

Near the end of our second day of waiting out the rain, we were eating a tasty native dinner of red beans and rice at a colorful local dive when the owner of the café strolled over to our table. Without hesitation or invitation, he plopped himself down. Miguel appeared to me exactly as I’ve always imagined don Juan of Carlos Castaneda fame to look. His face was dark and swarthy with a kind but inscrutable expression. Staring straight into our eyes, he declared in halting English, “You want to know volcano, not just look at it.”

Being a veteran traveler, I have learned to be agreeable in a foreign country and, in general, say “yes” to practically everything spoken to me by the locals. Not realizing the full import of the distinction between the words Miguel had used, I responded amicably, “Yeah, yeah, of course, we’d like to know the volcano.”

Without another word, Miguel turned over one of our paper place mats and, pulling a broken stub of a pencil from his shirt pocket, began to draw a crooked line. We watched in silence for the next twenty minutes as he guided the pencil over the grease-stained paper in absorbed concentration. What emerged was a detailed map of twists and turns with landmarks indicated by little, kid-like pictures of trees, stone walls and tiny shacks to represent a village.

Finished, Miguel put the pencil back in his pocket, sighed and spoke directly into our souls with piercing, green eyes. “This,” he said, tapping the crude map with its meandering trail, “take you to volcano. To be with volcano.” With his finger, Miguel softly tapped his chest over his heart, “to feel and know spirit of volcano.” Then he laughed softly and cautioned us we would be scared because the volcano would definitely erupt when we were there. “But volcano not harm you,” he added hastily. With a wistful look in his face, Miguel shared how he and his friends have picnicked at the edge of the volcano his whole life and the towering inferno had never harmed him. His words only mildly consoled me.

The sound of the cold, drenching rain woke us at dawn. We still couldn’t see or hear the volcano. Since the downpour discouraged us from any other tourist activity, we decided we may as well get soaking wet following Miguel’s map to wherever it led. Maybe the rain would stop once we were out of the village. Fat chance!

We drove up the steep mountainside of what the villagers below insisted was the volcano until the rugged jeep road ended abruptly at a craggy cliff. I was very surprised Miguel’s rough, hand-drawn map actually corresponded to what we found on our journey. His drawing indicated the sheer cliff and the small, hidden opening we found nestled between the rock wall and a weather-beaten wooden fence. We followed our friend’s makeshift chart through the hole, up a circuitous rocky path, over many collapsed lava rock walls and past long-deserted fruit orchards. The trail ended abruptly at an imposing 300-foot wall of solid volcanic lava flow so jagged and sharp we couldn’t climb it.

Fortunately for us, Miguel had anticipated this challenge. At the left edge of the lava flow, his map showed a naturally camouflaged trail through the dense rainforest. Our confidence in both our friend and his diagram strengthened over the past several hours, we plunged into the dark primeval forest. The jungle growth was so thick with vines and roots, the path so muddy and slippery, I felt we’d dropped into a comic scene right out of the Harrison Ford movie “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” During one hilarious moment, Rob and I both lost our footing and, clutching each other, slid back down fifty feet of the mudslide trail. Grabbing overhanging vines, Tarzan-style, saved the day—and our necks! Our guardian angels must get a lot of overtime pay!

Undaunted and filled with the rush of adventure, Rob and I helped each other stand up, pull ourselves together and restart the climb. Clawing and scratching our way through the rainforest, we finally reached the top of the lava flow. My first impression was how very windy and cold it was up there for a tropical climate. The pouring rain and dense fog had persisted, obliterating the view of anything more than a foot in front of us. As we inched our way along the top of the volcanic rock, I remembered how Miguel had told us of his many idyllic picnics here with his friends. Not very conducive weather for a picnic on this morning!

Suddenly, a booming roar filled the air, followed by a very powerful rumble that reverberated throughout our bodies. We felt the Earth roll in one undulating wave after another! Although Rob and I had never experienced an eruption before, we instinctively knew this was the volcano showing its might. The ground continued to heave in unnerving spasms. People-size boulders sped past us down the slope. Flying rocks were propelled into nearby trees, the sheer force imbedding the projectiles cleanly into their trunks. We heard and felt nearby avalanches crashing their way down the mountain. We could only see a fraction of the devastation because of the blinding downpour, but our bodies definitely registered the massive rearrangement all around us.

A sharp electric terror shot through every cell of my body. Its message was explicit and commanding, “Leave! Now! You must go now to save your life.”

I shouted to Rob, “We’re out of here! It’s not safe!” To my astonishment, he shook his head from side to side indicating he didn’t want to go.

“I’m staying. This is too cool!” he yelled over the roar of the wind and falling rock. He was nineteen years old. His sense of novelty and exploration was still stronger than his sense of danger and good judgment. I started to argue. I made zero impression on the brash, young daredevil.

Then another explosion rocked our world. I watched in horror as the heat, ash and force of the blast denuded a huge 200-foot tree in one second, stripping off all its leaves and limbs. If this volcano could do that to a tree, it could do the same to us! I knew with certainty I was supposed to leave posthaste.

Jumping off the top of the lava mound right into the rainforest, I bolted without another thought. I threw myself into the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” express mudslide, riding the flowing water and sludge through the dense jungle growth down the side of the still-quaking mountainside. In what seemed like only a few seconds, I arrived at the bottom of the lava flow. The path was certainly faster and easier going down than climbing up! For a brief moment, I lay soaked to the bone, resting in a mud puddle, my ripped clothes covered with brown muck.

Recovering some of my composure, I became aware for the first time of heat radiating from the lava flow smoldering several feet to my left. I crawled in the direction of the flow until I was within a few inches of the mass. To my surprise, the air felt like I had just opened a 400-degree oven. The surface was so hot, I instinctively jumped back a few feet. When we first arrived earlier in the morning, the extremely cold wind and pelting rain had so neutralized the radiant heat from the lava, we didn’t even notice the temperature.

But the heat was not the only aspect of the lava that the elements had concealed from us. I picked up a small twig and approached the foot of the black mound that had gushed from the top of the mountain. Getting as close as I could to the sulphurous heat, I stuck the branch into the rain-drenched ground about two inches in front of the lava. Within a minute, the lava hill reached the stick and buried it!

Suddenly my whole body reeled with the involuntary shudder of recognition. For the last hour Rob and I had been walking on a live, moving lava flow! And Rob was still up there running around on the molten granite.

Another eruption, three times louder than the first one, filled the air. My ears throbbed from the deafening boom. My feet and body registered avalanche after avalanche of crashing rock careening down the side of the volcano. Descending the rough trail, I ran head over heels in a panic, determined to outrun any rockslides coming my way. After a half-hour of the fastest, long distance race I’ve ever run, I arrived at our jeep safely sheltered under a broad-armed tree. Collapsing into the front seat, I fought to catch my breath.

As my pulse and mind quieted, I was overcome with fear for the safety of my friend still walking around on the moving bed of liquid rock in the midst of periodic violent explosions. I began feeling intensely responsible. I’d left a young kid in my charge on top of an erupting volcano! A nightmarish vision bombarded me. I saw his parents, who had entrusted their son with me, watching local authorities dig through the rubble of the volcano searching for the body of the lost American youth. Feeling so guilty and worried I could neither relax nor rest, I decided I must leave the jeep and hike back up the volcano. I had to find Rob.

No sooner had I opened the door of the jeep than an insistent inner impulse told me to stay put and listen inside for further instructions. When I receive such forceful commands from my inner coach, I usually obey. Quieting myself as much as possible under the circumstances, I endeavored to get in touch with my next best intuitive move. I challenged myself, Was it wrong what I did? Was it selfish and self-absorbed to look after my own safety and leave a young kid behind?

After I felt all the intense emotions stirred up from asking these soul-searching questions, I received a very strong message directly from Spirit. My inner knowing spoke to me emphatically, saying:

“You did the right thing. You followed your intuition. If you recall specifically, your inner coach told you that it was dangerous for you to stay, and that you needed to leave immediately. It said nothing about your friend Rob. Nothing at all. You were right to follow your guidance and leave. In fact, had you stayed, you may very well have endangered your friend’s safety! Had you stayed, you would have been out of alignment with your intuition and, therefore, out of harmony and integrity with yourself. This discordant state has a strong tendency to interfere with another person’s ability to tap into and follow his or her own knowing. Had you stayed, you may have hindered Rob’s ability to hear and heed his inner direction. You took the most helpful, loving and appropriate action by following the letter and spirit of your intuition. You following you own internal urging allowed your friend the space to realize he must rely on his own internal wisdom.”

Spirit’s message was a fascinating new lesson in intuitive guidance for me. In general, and for its reassurance in my present predicament, I was grateful for this fresh perspective. I never before realized the precision of intuition. I never before understood the independence of one person’s guidance from the inner counsel of another person in a shared situation.

At the exact moment I realized the import of what I was being told by my inner coach, Rob came streaking down the trail toward the jeep. In the fury of the last violent eruption, Rob received his own internal signal to vamoose. Guided by his own inner compass, he immediately took the Mudslide Express through the jungle to safety. I was extremely relieved—and appreciative to Spirit—that my nightmare vision of Rob’s demise was averted. I gave silent thanks for the eternal lessons I learned from our escapade.

Back on solid ground, Rob and I were anxious to leave the mountain rains and clouds. We hopped into the jeep and sped toward the sunny western coast of Costa Rica. Driving down the mountainside, we both lapsed in and out of thankful silence for being alive. Perhaps the next day, the morning’s events would seem a great adventure, but, right then, the very real danger we’d just survived remained very palpable and raw. Our minds, emotions and physical bodies were still remembering and replaying our narrow escape.

Suddenly, Rob and I experienced simultaneous intuitive hits to pull over and get out of the jeep. Leaning against the vehicle, we turned as one toward the top of the mountain we’d just descended. As if waiting for us to stop our downward trek away from the mountain and turn our gaze upward, the clouds parted to reveal the awesome Mt. Arenal volcano for the very first time since our arrival in Costa Rica so many days earlier. The dense mist lifted. We saw exactly where we had been hiking on the lava flow. We pinpointed where the tree line ended and the lava flow began. We’d been standing only a hundred yards from the open mouth of the volcano when it erupted!

The restaurant owner Miguel had promised we would be with, we would feel and we would know the spirit of the volcano. He said the mountain would definitely erupt when we were there. And he’d promised the volcano would not harm us. The rain and his crude map tricked us into going so close to the volcano that we did, indeed, get to know the volcano, not just view it.

Was it the spirit of the volcano that sent Miguel to us? —and turned the skies into a torrential downpour in order to obscure the treacherous nature of our journey so we wouldn’t be scared off? Rob and I agreed, stranger things have happened. One thing was certain. If we’d been able to see where we were going, we would never have walked as close as we did to the mouth of the cauldron.

Now, viewing the majesty of Mt. Arenal, we were humbled and ever so grateful for the experience of having been able to safely feel the mountain’s power and personality. As we were sending out our thankfulness to and admiration of the volcano, the mountain erupted again with an explosion twice as high as the volcano itself. Two miles of elegant ash plume shot up into the dark blue sky. The event was quite dramatic and very humbling.

We knew the volcano was responding to our love and appreciation for its gift to us that day. Then the clouds closed back in and our mighty friend said good-bye, leaving us forever changed and enriched by its friendship.

This true story is an excerpt from Keith’s latest book, Inner Coach: Outer Power:

Forty-eight firsthand stories reveal the amazing creative powers within you that can heal your body, expand your heart, and attract phenomenal abundance into your life. Fresh and captivating, Keith shows you the practical, everyday use of levitation, alchemy, multi-dimensional travel, near-death experiences, out-of-body journeys, parallel realities and time-tripping. Spiritual teachers unveil their secrets to happiness. Ancient shamans impart how to manifest an easy flow of money. Angels illustrate how to heal the body instantly. Nature devas share keys to attracting soulmates. Spirit guides demonstrate how they can save your life in a crisis. Using his vast exploration as a healer, mystic, acupuncturist, urban shaman, filmmaker, personal coach, and seminar leader, Keith helps you become a real Miracle Maker!

Available at bookstores,, or